Working with new teachers is, perhaps, the best job in the entire world. I spent this week doing just that, alongside some pretty amazing colleagues. Even if you aren’t a teacher, you likely remember your first real entrance into your career. I do. My first day as a teacher of students with Emotional Disturbances in San Antonio was daunting, at best. At the end of the day, I may have been shedding a few tears that accompanied thoughts like, “How can I keep Michael and Jesse from killing each other?” “Why does Patrick roll his eyes all the time?” “How can I help my two girls in my class grow up to be happy young ladies?” After sniffling and whining for a few minutes, I decided I could complain or I could do something about my fears. By the next morning, I had bought new copies of The Indian in the Cupboard for each of my former “I hate reading” students to read, made a cupboard that would hold clues to the reading for the day, and figured out a new seating arrangement and point system that would serve to keep any homicides from happening in our classroom that year. Working with new teachers reminded me of the trepidation I felt that first year, as well as the excitement and challenges ahead. Particular poignant was the simile a brand new high school teacher made. “Teaching is like a cloud because it is pregnant with possibilities.” Wow! I also listened to a gentleman share his fear of being assaulted by a student. That same participant later said, “I may still be a little bit nervous, but I cannot wait until Tuesday to meet the students I will be building relationships with.”
Combining those two thoughts, perhaps we can remind ourselves that each day of teaching is ripe with the opportunity for relationship-building, with our students as well as with our colleagues. I’m not necessarily talking about relationships with colleagues like we have to all hug and be great friends (although, speaking from experience, that is amazing when it happens). I’m talking about the kind of relationship-building in which we truly feel like we are a community of professionals, who can’t wait to learn and grow together. I had the opportunity to talk with a couple of my own colleagues this week about why we think it “works” when we work together. We described things like: willingness to be vulnerable in front of one another, ability to laugh together, agility in team-teaching, lifting each other up instead of feeling competitive, and so many more.
What does that look like as a new teacher in a new school? One middle school teacher asked, “Do you think it’s possible for teachers to ask each other for help without looking dumb?” The answer is a resounding “yes!” and I have evidence to back up my assertion. For 7 ½ years as an elementary school principal, I worked alongside teachers who poked their heads in each other’s rooms to gain new ideas. They would host sharing sessions in their classrooms (called Thinking Thursdays, one year) in which intermediate teachers might gather in Shelley’s room to talk about how they used hula-hoops to work on Venn diagrams. Everyone would leave with a pair of hula hoops and a promise to share how they had used them in their own content area or grade level. Sharing vulnerability and a willingness to admit that I don’t have all the answers is a relatively easy concept yet sometimes quite difficult to implement. I am blessed to have some really amazing colleagues, in my work as a consultant, with whom I can share tips and techniques. Peggy has taught me new ways to phrase directions that don’t allow participants to opt out. I have learned from Dar the gift of asking more questions rather than doing so much telling. And, frankly, the participants with whom I have worked the last week have taught me so many new perspectives, I can’t wait for the next opportunity!
My hope for each one of you is that your work is like a cloud in that it is pregnant with possibilities.
Let’s keep remembering how to reclaim the joy in everything we do.